In the Anthropocene era – our current geological age where human activities have been the dominant influence on the environment and climate – primeval elements have been increasingly a point of political contention. Toxic air, corrosive soil, black water and environmental violence have been mediated with different degrees of consistencies and success in policy making. If public policies alone can’t resolve the crisis, it rests upon human capital to confront the environmental change through the agency of design to extend human survival.
Volatile Ecologies is a design expedition examining the environmental degradation in the suburban post-industrial waterfront of Buffalo New York through the lens of scenario planning and prototype making. Since their use in the 1910s, these sites have been contaminated for decades with oil spills, benzene run-offs, coal tars, ammonia liquors, waste water, and toxic airborne emissions. Bringing together design thinking, technology, and material culture, the exhibition depicts an alternative future of the heavily polluted environment through design apparatuses and speculative drawings. With each viewing from the perspective of air, earth, and water, the apparatuses and the world they inhabit explore ideas of reparation, production, and cohabitation across spatial and temporal scales. From an air filtrating wearable to a pneumatic parasite, sentient landscape machinery to new urban surfaces, the prototypes offer material evidence and suggest the results of changing working relationships between artists, architects, designers, engineers, scientists, politicians and other stakeholders. As you traverse through this exhibition, you will discover and explore narrative, practices and aesthetics – scientifically informed and materially substantiated.
In a world of quickly changing environments, the architecture and design community should instrumentalize its capacity for intervention and meaningful change. Volatile Ecologies does not offer solutions but a platform for conversations by providing observations and speculative alternatives on the table.
Zherui Wang is a designer and researcher investigating the interplay between ecology, technology and material culture. His most recent work, titled Climate as a Medium, exhibited at Parasol Project in New York, examines the medium of air in the face of climate change in architectural terms. Wang is the 2020-21 Reyner Banham Fellow at the University at Buffalo. He has taught design studios and seminars at the University of Pennsylvania, Pratt Institute and Princeton University, and has practiced in design and research roles at Barkow Leibinger Architects, Pratt Institute Center for Experimental Structures, Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting, and Princeton Andlinger Center for the Energy and Environment. Wang received a Master of Architecture from Princeton University, and a Bachelor of Architecture from Pratt Institute. His work has been supported by the Pratt Endowment Fund, Lee & Norman Rosenfeld Award, Suzanne Kolarik Underwood Prize, and Charles & Margret Hanna Fellowship.